Encouraging expert participation in Wikimedia projects is a key aspect of the Wikimedian in Residence on Open Science project, and so is pointing out what discourages experts from contributing.
Below is a copy of a blog post by Antony Williams (Wikipedia article) in which he describes some particularly egregious cases of imbalances in Wikipedia policies when it comes to involving scientific experts like him. Antony heads ChemSpider (Wikipedia article), one of the largest public databases of chemical information, which is now part of the Royal Society of Chemistry (Wikipedia article). He is an active contributor to Wikipedia (recent edits), and ChemSpider systematically engages experts to curate Wikipedia content (early blog post).
In the blog post, he has not even mentioned all of his contributions that have been tagged for deletion or notability – an article about the 16-million-Euro international research project Open PHACTS (Wikipedia article) is currently up for deletion as well.
The usual way to deal with proposed deletions is to engage in deletion discussions on a per-article level. This is time-consuming in a way that experts cannot justifiably be expected to engage in, so we will need a more structured approach. Suggestions on how to go about that are most welcome.
I’m a BIG Wikipedia fan. It is one of my favorite sites, our 9 year old twins have spent many hours on the site with me, and I have personally spent a lot of time, including Christmas, curating chemistry on Wikipedia. I like what Wikipedia has achieved, have willingly contributed articles, but also enjoy a good laugh at Wikipedia’s expense when appropriate. In the past 24 hours I’ve giggled at the latest XKCD cartoon as well as this blog post about Jimmy Wales.
Despite my affection for Wikipedia this week I am annoyed about what’s going on for me on Wikipedia. I’ve read The Wikipedia Revolution and understand the editorial activities and I’ve had many discussions about how authors of Wikipedia articles have been “beaten up” in a friendly way. I’ve been warned about Conflict of Interest policies and yet, because I think it’s important, have tried to navigate the complexities of contributing articles. At present however my contributions on Wikipedia regarding scientists and projects I know about have all been flagged, either for deletion or for “notability”.
I’ve written the bulk of these articles: Gerhard Ecker, Sean Ekins and Gary Martin. Some of the flags on the articles include “It may have been edited by a contributor who has a close connection with its subject.Tagged since November 2011.”
Gary Martin and Sean Ekins are personal friends so YES, I have close connections with the subject. And I believe I can objectively write a good article about them. Just like I wrote about the village I grew up in…Afonwen. I only spent 12 years of my life there….so have a close connection with that too. I have known Gerhard Ecker for about three years, and know about his work from reading his articles and hearing him speak, and feel its valid to contribute an article as I JUDGE he’s a notable scientist. Gary Martin has almost 300 publications, and an h-index of 27. In the domain of NMR anyone who is doing small molecule structure elucidation is almost certainly using technology he has contributed too. He is notable. Sean Ekins is also notable, in my opinion. And surely Wikipedia is about collective opinions.
I have tried to follow notability guidelines for academics but have clearly failed so encourage anyone reading this post to help clean up the articles. If any of you out there happen to know Gerhard, Gary or Sean DON’T contribute though…you might get flagged as being a contributor who has a close connection. It’s much better to write about people you don’t know. Clearly I understand the possible bias …
If I look at the number of chemists on Wikipedia I find the following list of about 480 chemists. That article is a list of world-famous chemists. There is also a smaller list of Russian Chemists. The end of the list looks like this:
These are likely all NOTABLE chemists as I couldn’t find a single article in the list with a challenge on it…but I confess to not looking at each one one at a time. But that’s what we have for chemists….a list of world-famous chemists, biochemists and Russian chemists.
Many of us have heard about how “open” Wikipedia is including many of the exchanges regardingpornography on Wikipedia. In many cases I have to simply caution “welcome to the internet”. We all know its out there…how could we not. There is material on Wikipedia that is shocking, but at the same time educational. But where I take issue, just for comparison purposes, is that top-notch scientists, in my opinion (and I judge that of many others) can be flagged as not notable, yet pages like those listed below for pornstars can exist without question, without flagging but, I have to assume, are both encyclopedic and notable.
Similar to the list of chemists a search on pornstars gives a full article here but then these incredibly long lists!
- Category:Pornographic film actors
- Category:Lists of pornographic film actors
- List of British pornographic actors
- List of Asian pornographic actors
- List of African-American pornographic actors
- List of pornographic actors who appeared in mainstream films
- List of pornographic actresses by decade
The last one is quite a list! I guess its appropriate to list pornstars by decade but scientists tend to perform better over the longer term and can have 40-50 year careers whereas I don’t even want to imagine that for the other career! I struggle to see why the list of references for Ron Jeremy is any more notable/appropriate than the list of references for Gary Martin.
What’s ridiculous is that there is even an article about pornstar pets. What??? This has more of a place on Wikipedia than some of our worlds most published scientists? Is there something wrong with this picture?
While I may not fully understand what is deemed to be appropriate in terms of notability for a scientist, and I do understand the judgment that I might be too close to the scientists to be objective (but I challenge that!) I definitely challenge the status that ponstars deserve more exposure, pardon the pun, than the worlds chemists.
Despite my rants I understand the challenges that will likely show up as comments on this blogpost. I understand that I will be pointed to WP:COI and WP:Notability. I do not get to set the rules, I need to follow them as I am a small part of a very important community of crowdsourced improvement. But, overall, I remain surprised at how there appears to be so much diligence looking at the articles of scientists rather than those of pornstars. I think scientists are generally involved in very notable activities that generally distinguish them from the bulk of the population. I think pornstars are involved in activities that are not particularly notable as the bulk of the population will do them at some point in their life….well, not ALL activities that pornstars do I’m sure…..
I believe we need a change in policy. I believe that scientists deserve more notability than pornstars and that diligence, while appropriate, should be used in a more tempered manner.
There is an alternative solution…